image caption: Gurmukh Singh OBE

Sikh Doctrine of Double Sovereignty V. Authoritarian State

         A long essay by Sirdar Kapur Singh, The Golden Temple: Its Theo-political Status, was first published in the August 1974 edition of The Sikh Review. In August 1998, it was published as a 25 pages booklet by the Dharam Parchar Committee (SGPC), Amritsar and 30,000 free copies were distributed. The essay is a summary of the history of the doctrine of Double Sovereignty promulgated in the beginning of the 17th century with the formal establishment of the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib as the supreme Sikh miri-piri (temporal-spiritual) authority.

Kapur Singh clarified the consequences of Double Sovereignty for any state which includes Sikhs as citizens: such a state must never make the paranoid pretensions of almighty absolutism entailing the concept of total power entitled to rule over the bodies and minds of men, in utter exclusiveness. Any state which lays such claims, qua the Sikhs, shall automatically forfeit its moral right to demand allegiance of the Sikhs.

The foundation of the revolutionary Khalsa ideology had already been laid by Guru Nanak Sahib. The inevitable conflict between the Sikhs and the totalitarian state did not come as a surprise to outside observers like Emperor Jehangir even before he sat on the throne of Delhi. The martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev ji signalled the emergence of Sri Akal Takht Sahib symbolising the doctrine of Double Sovereignty.

The author then goes on to show how the Khalsa defeated the Mughal and colonial empires. Sikh allegiance to any state depends on two conditions: they should be approached as a collective group and they must be governed impersonally, through the rule of law. The present conflict between the Sikhs and the state is also grounded in the same doctrinal conflict.

Sikhs can be the most loyal citizens of any just state. However, when dealing with the Sikhs, the state must limit its own power within the principles of morality and justice and recognize that the first loyalty of the Sikhs is to the Double Sovereignty of the Guru, the Sacha Patshah. In that sense, the Guru Darbar of the Sikhs, symbolised by the Institution of Sri Akal Takht Sahib, is a state within the outer state. It expands at own collective will when the outside state becomes authoritarian and does not accept own limitation of power.

Following the Indian Army invasion of Panjab in 1984 and attack on Darbar Sahib and many historic gurdwaras, a senior civil servant asked me to let him have a compact study of Sikh ideology and history. I gave him a copy of the above essay by Sirdar Kapur Singh. A few days later, this colleague returned the essay while shaking his head. He said that the Indian government had committed a great blunder by invading the Golden Temple (Darbar Sahib).

Sikh contribution to just regimes can be immense and opposition to unjust regimes, formidable. Ultimately, self-destruction of authoritarian states is the fruit of the seed of non-limitation of power. Diaspora Sikhs have adjusted well to the environments created by administrative systems based entirely on the rule of law and scored a long list of political successes in recent years.


Gurmukh Singh OBE